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Spirit and Flesh at War

The world before and in the time of Christ was heavily under the influence of Greek philosophy. Plato and other pagan philosophers taught that spirit or mind was good and that matter or flesh was evil. The Gnostics that opposed the apostles held to this neoplatonistic view which was never completely eliminated from Christian circles. Its influence is still present today and can be seen in two theological disciplines, antinomianism and amillennialism.

The antinomians (those against law) do not see God’s law as applicable to Christians today. Following Plato, they separate mind from body and thusly divide man into two opposing entities. They see Old Testament Israel as fleshly and New Testament Christianity as spiritual. God’s laws, they say, applied to the former but the latter, as the spiritual, operate on a higher plane and have no need of the law. This radical division of man that disconnects the spiritual from the physical lets them conclude that Christians can disobey God’s laws with impunity and remain in God’s favor. It denies James who says, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20).

The amillennialists (those against millennialism) deny the Scriptural prophecies that predict a future age in which the Christian faith is predominant throughout the world. They do so by interpreting all such passages as having a spiritual meaning that overrides the physical sense. A passage that says, “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4) is lifted entirely out of this world and taken as a reference to heaven and the final state. This group does not deny the applicability of God’s law today but they demonstrate their neoplatonic thinking in the way they look at Scripture. They say that God’s word to His creature, the physical-spiritual being He formed from the dust of the earth and breathed His spirit into, was to be understood spiritually. Its physical aspects were merely allegorical in nature and not meant to be taken literally. Man, even Jesus the God-man is split in two; the physical is denigrated and temporary while the spiritual is exalted and permanent. This hints quite strongly of Plato and the Gnostics of old and is not faithful biblical interpretation.

God’s word treats man as man, as the physical-spiritual being he is and was created to be. Scripture is not an allegory in which the true meaning is not what it simply says but must be decoded before it can be understood. In places Scripture employs figurative language but only to clarify, not as a means to hide the true meaning. Man is both spirit and flesh and neither aspect should be exalted above the other. Spirit is not necessarily good (Satan is a spiritual being), nor is flesh necessarily evil (Jesus’ body is human flesh). Where Paul speaks of the conflict between the spirit and the flesh (Gal. 5:17), he uses the word flesh as a reference to the old nature that still resides in the redeemed man. It is not the physical body that struggles against the spirit but the old spirit that struggles against the new spirit.